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We have all been taught to think of Greece and

Rome as the models of classic nobility, freedom,
honor, courage, and the source of all the good
things we enjoy in Western civilization. Even
Christians have echoed the refrain of the world
that for enlightenment, democratic values, and
culture, the civilizations of Greece and Rome are
unexcelled. We are told that the West owes its
ideas of freedom and dignity, as well as its political
strncture to the Greek and Roman models. If one
does not genuflect to the Greeks, one is incurably
barbaric. It is vital that we get a more accurate
understanding of the so-called "classical" world.
Whenever you find a man or culture nearly
universally praised, you should learn to ask the
question "Why?" Why do unbelieving historians
love Greece and Rome? The answer is of course,
that they love them because they epitomize the
culture of unbelief or, in R. J. Rushdoony's phrase,
"the society of Satan." Here was a great culture
that was quite open about its unbelief. It rejected
Israel's Jehovah with impunity and became great
anyway (at least "great" as defined by men who
reject the Scriptures).
Herbert J. Muller, who wrote a trilogy of books
tracing the development of freedom, gushes in his
adoration of Greece. "No other culture ... was so
many-sided .... Their literature was unparalleled
in its variety ... Their philosophy was likewise by
far the most varied arid comprehensive; ... They
alone went on from natural philosophy to extensive
achievement in science. They made history too a
branch of rational inquiry, instead of royal annals
or religious propaganda." The demise of this
"great" culture, says Muller, "for lovers of free-
dom is as depressing a story as any in history ... "
Bnt what was it that made them so great?
Muller is quite decided upon it, "But first it must be
said that what made possible the distinctive
achievements of Greece was its essential human-
ism." (Muller, Freedom ill the Allciellt World, pp.
147-148). It was the fact that they developed
without the interference of a god to give them
laws, or to explain the universe, or to layout the
bounds ofjustice, or to give them infallible wisdom.
Thus, to Muller, freedom is essentially freedom
from God and that was what Greece (and after-
wards Rome) stood for par excellence.
R. J. Rushdoony says, "The clearest develop-
ment of humanism in the ancient world was by
Greek philosophy. Man was made the measure of
all things." (World History Notes, p. 37) Thus,
Greece and Rome in many ways, became the
antithesis of the ideal Christian culture. Whereas
the Scriptures set forth God as the measure of all
things, the classical Greco-Roman world-view was
one in which all good and evil was determined by
man. Man was god. This is why Greece and Rome
are glorified while Israel is condemned. This to the
nnbeliever is true freedom. To the Christian, it is
ntter bondage.
There are at least three things that characterize
Greco-Roman culture:
I. IT WAS CONFUSED BY SUPERSTITION
To say that Greece and Rome rejected Jehovah
is not to say that they were irreligious. As some-
one has said, "To refuse to believe in God does not
mean that you believe in nothing; to the contrary, it
means that you will believe anything." So it was
with Greece and Rome.
Never has there been a more religious cnlture.
Idols and temples, ghosts and demons, sacrifices
and ceremonies were literally everywhere (as Panl
found when he entered Athens in Acts 17).
Astrology was viewed as high science and enjoyed
the respect of this snpposedly "sophisticated"
society (it is amazing how historians can praise the
"sophistication" of Greece and Rome and in the
next breath mock the "superstition" of Israel).
Animal sacrifices were quite commonplace. Even
hnman sacrifices were not unknown in this "so-
phisticated" culture. It was truly "highly religious."
By one count there were 109 holy days in Rome.
But this religion did not produce holiness and
restraint. Immorality and license, debanchelY and
perversion were commonplace and accepted. In
fact, as in most pagan societies, immorality and
religion were intertwined. Sacred prostitntion (both
homosexual and heterosexnal) was a common
aspect of religious ritual.
This should not be surprising given the nature
of the Greek gods and goddesses. According to
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Muller, the "Olympiaus were not spiritual beings,
of course - only glorified men and women. Apart
from their notorious philandering, with mortals as
well as with other deities, their behavior was often
scandalous even by human standards .... In their
dealings with men they were arbitrary and capri-
cious, or consistent only in their rank favoritism."
(op. cit. p. 157) Philip Schaff notes, "The gods are
involved by their marriages in perpetual j ealousies
and qnarrels. They are full of envy and wrath,
hatred and lust, provoke men to crime, and pro-
voke each other to lying and cruelty, perjury and
  (lfistory of the Christian Church, vol.
1, p. 73)
The Greek gods had their origins in the ancient
Babylonian and Sumerian cultures and are merely
Baal and Ashtoreth, Mardnk and Tiamat, Isis and
Osiris renamed. Above and beyond these gods and
goddesses were forces even more primitive to
which the gods themselves were subject- the
Fates and Furies. The gods were made after man's
image and thus reflected the wickedness and
infidelity, the helplessness and frustrations of finite,
sinful men.
There were literally no absolutes, thus, Greek
religion was in a constant state of flux. New
deities and ceremonies could be introduced at any
time since there was no sacred book or creed by
which to judge heresy. There were gods for war,
fertility, love, harvest, travel, doors, and nearly
everything else. Each phenomena had its own
special god which controlled it. As an expression
of the ancient chaos cult, this situation was not
disturbing to the average Greek (as it might be to
one reared in a Christian culture) -'- to his mind,
the more gods, the more conflict, the more contra-
diction, the better.
Peter Leithart has noted that along side this
strain of irrationality in religion there existed a
strain of rationality in philosophy. "Aristotle is
noted for his concept of virtue as a rational bal-
ance, a 'Golden Mean' between the extremes of
excess and deficiency .... For both Plato and
Aristotle, the goal was moderation (not renuncia-
tion) of desire, and they applied this principle
directly to sexual desire." ("The Biblical Source of
Western Sexual Morality," Contra Mundum, No.
7, Spring, 1993, p. 54) But this did not produce a
code of ethics anything like that of the Bible.
So, for example, both Aristotle and Plato speak
of restraint and the conquest of desire, yet neither
specifY any particular acts as immoral. Everything
was lawful, so long as self-control was exercised.
Both approved ofhomosexnality and, in fact,
viewed it as more noble and pure than hetero-
sexual love. This view, at least for the philoso-
phers, was rooted in the beliefthat homosexuality
was more rational and more noble because it
combined the love of a beautiful body with the love
of a beautiful soul- a combination which
Socrates and others thought to be rarely, if ever,
found in a woman. (Leithart, op. cit., p. 56)
Now, you might think such a religious environ-
ment would be harmful to the development of a
classical civilization, but not so says Herbert
Muller. Greek religion was a great advance for the
world, "The divine was no longer identified with
natural forces, no longer symbolized by stone,
snake, or bull, but was identified with humanity,
represented in ideal human form ... If they were
temperamental and sometimes spiteful, they were
generally gracious, essentially reasonable, never
so savage as the old Yahweh in his jealous or
wrathful moods. They could smile, as Yahweh
never could .... Relieved of all cosmic responsi-
bilities, they [the gods] lived at ease on Mount
Olympus, feasting, laughing, going to bed at night;
so their worshipers did not have to live in constant
fear of them or of the dark .... Never almighty,
they showed some jealousy in their demand for the
customary ceremonial attentions, but they could
not be so fiercely intolerant as Yahweh, and they
never declared that man's whole duty was to serve
them. They authorized no sacred book, no rigid
dogma, no powerful priesthood, no authoritarian
church. They left the Greeks free to inquire,
pursue truth, explore other ideal possibilities, aspire
to a full life of their own. Both the limitations and
the values of Homer's Bible may be summed up in
the statement that it was no Bible at all in the
Christian sense, and that he gave the Greeks no
word for either 'God-loving' or 'God-fearing. '"
(Muller, op. cit., pp. 158-159, emphasis added)
Indeed. And this explains the other aspects of the
Greco-Roman world.
II. IT WAS DOMINATED BY WARFARE
The Bible says, "There is no peace to the
wicked." In spite of claims to the contrary, the
pagan world was not peaceful. War was a way of
life. The Roman historian Livy reports that the
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Roman Repnblic was at peace only twice in its
entire history. Athens (often considered the most
peaceful of the Greek city-states) never enjoyed
ten consecutive years of peace.
Plato in his work, Laws, says, "what most men
call peace is merely an appearance; in reality all
cities are by nature in a permanent state of unde-
clared war against all other cities." M. 1. Finley
points out that in Plato's Dialogues, Plato de-
scribes a sanitized Athens where intellectuals
discourse and discuss philosophical questions,
while strolling about the city, eating and drinking
from house to house. Yet, says Finley, "for most of
the time which Plato describes, Athens was
fighting a long and bloody war in which at least
half the population died, many ofthem from a
particularly horrifying plague which scarred even
those who survived it, and which was partly the
consequence of the unsanitalY conditions in which
vast numbers of citizens were camped, at first in
the heat of summer and later all year, on every
available space of open Or sacred land within the
city walls." (AlIciellt History, p. 68, quoted in
Jolm Robbins, "The Coming of Christ," The
Freeman, December, 1992. I am heavily indebted
to this excellent article for many of the illustrations
mentioned).
III. IT WAS PERVADED WITH
CORRUPTION AND OPPRESSION
At the time of Christ, it has been estimated that
the population of Rome contained as many as two
million slaves (out of eight million inhabitants).
Women, children, and foreign residents in addition
to slaves were excluded from citizenship. Slaves
were used not only for menial labor and other
dangerous or disagreeable jobs, but also for
entertainment. Thousands died in the gladiatorial
games for the amusement of the Roman citizens.
Cruelty to slaves was commonplace. W. E. H.
Lec1cy observes, "numerous acts of the most
odious barbarity were committed ... Flaminius
ordering a slave to be killed to gratify, by the
spectacle, the curiosity of a guest; ... Augustus
sentencing a slave, who had killed and eaten a
favorite quail, to crucifixion ... Old and infirm
slaves were constantly exposed to perish on an
island of the Tiber." (History of Europeall Mor-
als, Part I, p. 127, quoted in Robbins)
Nor was slavery opposed by the philosophers.
Both Plato and Aristotle defended slavery based
on the fact of slave inferiority. This sort of elitism
is common in paganism. The idea that men are
created equally in the image of God is a distinctly
Christian notion. Aristotle would say, "the delibera-
tive faculty is not present at all in the slave, in the
female it is inoperative, in the child undeveloped."
(quoted in Robbins)
Oppression was not confined to the instiltjtion
of slavery. Both Greece and Rome (Rome perhaps
more than Greece) sought to control the economy
wherever it could conceivably be controlled. A
basic feature of the constitution of Sparta was
complete control of economic activity. The State
had taken the place of God and thus, like God,
viewed itself as the sovereign lord over all the
activities ofits subjects. As in all pagan societies,
regulation and taxation were the most common
means of control. Strabo (Greek writer) criticizes
the Cymeans as stupid because they did not
perceive the advantages of "inhabiting a city lying
on the sea." By advantages Strabo is referring to
the opportunities for taxation and tariffs that a
seaport offers. Because the Cymeans "levied no
tolls for the use of their port and consequently, got
no revenues of any kind from it," they were
proverbial for their stupidity! Muller notes that
"other Greeks were thriving on ... trade ... They
had very early got on to the idea of a city lying on
the sea, and no doubt had levied as high tolls as the
traffic wonld bear." (Muller, p. 148).
Lining your pockets by means of bribes and
corruption was an accepted political practice. Paul
Veyne writes, "The honest functionary is a pecu-
liarity of modern Western nations. In Rome every
superior stole from his subordinates .... Every
public function was a racket, those in charge 'put
the squeeze' on their subordinates, and all together
exploited the populace. This was true during the
period of Rome's greatness as well as during the
period of its decline." ("The Roman Empire," A
History of Private Life, pp. 167,97-98, cited in
Robbins) Roman nobles had more in connnon with
a Mafia godfather than with the modern bureau-
crat (though that last analogy is daily being dis-
proved).
Justice was, to say the least, quite difficult to
come by. Though all were granted many "fonnal
rights" it is clear, as Veyne says, that "the weak
man had little to gain by going to court." (Veyne, p.
166). The illustration he gives is enlightening. If a
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neighbor coveted your farm and, with his army of
slaves took possess.ion of it by force, you were
free to sue to gain it back. But his act would be
merely a civil offense rather than a criminal and it
would not have been covered by the penal code. It
would have .been up to you to make sure he
appeared in court to face your charges (i.e., you
would, with your personal forces, have to capture
him and forcibly take him to court) and further-
more, if the judgment went in your favor, it would
be up to you to enforce it. You would be authorized
by the judge to seize your assets back from the
one who stole them in the first place (i.e., if you
could do so). So much for the wonderful, enlight-
ened, judicial practice of Rome.
For many years prior to the coming of Julius
Caesar, it was the practice of the party in power to
carry out a policy of destruction against their
political opponents. "In the Year 82, Sulla was
appointed dictator by the senate. He rescinded
every social law of the past fifty years, and
launched a war of extirpation on the popular party
which put all previous effort of the kind into the
shade. Thousands had fallen in battle. Many
thousands more were put by the dictator on the so-
called proscription lists .... Everyone whose name
appeared on this black list was outlawed and
condemned to death without trial or appeal. This
was the new form which Sulla gave to the war of
extirpation .... Sulla's ambiguous fame was
proclaimed on his tomb with the words, 'He did
good to his friends and evil to his foes like none
before him. ", (Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the
Caesars, p. 43)
Abortion, infanticide, the exposure of infants,
and suicide were alllegal and quite commonplace.
The father, as the head of the family, had the
power oflife and death over all his children and
slaves. "At birth, the midwife would place the
newborn on the ground, where he would remain
unless the father took the child and raised him
from the earth. If the father did not raise the child,
he - or more likely she - was left to die in some
public place." (Robbins, op. cit.) The early Chris-
tians regularly rescued hundreds of babies from
this certain death. Infants with birth defects, were
simply killed on the spot. And, once again; the
noble philosophers of Greece and Rome had no
qualms about this practice. Plato and Aristotle both
endorsed this practice and Seneca wrote' in its
defense, "What is good must be set apart from
what is good for nothing." (quoted in Robbins)
Aristotle not only approved of abortion but
desired that it should be enforced by law when the
population exceeded certain limits. No law in
Greece or Rome forbade it for any reason what-
ever. Thus abortions were performed not only for
the many common reasons cited today but also for
so slight a reason as the physical discomfort and
disfigurement pregnancy caused the woman.
(Robbins)
Suicide was not only accepted but greatly
admired. Oswyn Murray notes, "The courage of
the man who decides to end his suffering and
accept eternal rest was extolled by the philoso-
phers, for suicide proved the truth of the philo-
sophical notion that what matters is the quality and
not the quantity of time that one lives." ("Life and
Society in Classical Greece," The Oxford History
of the Classical World, p. 229, cited in Robbins)
We could go on, but enough has been said, I
trust, to demonstrate why the gospel and the laws
of God were considered so revolutionary to the
ancient world. Instead of the sinful and limited
gods, Christ declared the holy, all powerful, sover-
eign One who inhabits eternity. Instead of encour-
aging men on a futile search for truth He revealed
the God who spoke the truth to men. Against
totalitarianism Christ declares a limited, servant-
like, civil magistrate who is under the authority of
the Creator and answerable to Him, who is to
apply His laws and secure justice for all. Instead
of the elitism of paganism, Christ revealed the
reality of true nobility in creation after the image
of God and redemption by the power and grace of
God. The world received light for darkness, truth
for lies, certainty for superstition, life for death,
freedom in exchange for bondage.
The bare fact that historians continue to refer
to Greece and Rome as "classical" and admirable
is astonishing evidence of unregenerate man's
enmity against God. Why would Herbert Muller
say that all who love freedom mourn the demise of
Greece and Rome? Only because he knows
nothing of true freedom in the first place. When
men refuse to submit to the One true God they
become not noble but beastly. Our hope is not in a
retnrn to the classical era. True nobility and dignity
is found only in submission to our Creator and in
embracing His covenant redemption.
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